25_sharon_oldsThis week, in celebration of the Pulitzer recognition of the luminescent Sharon Olds, we salute each of the six women who have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry since the year 2000. 

It would be simple to devote all of this Poetry Sunday to Sharon, whom we’ve praised in print before, but we know her to be a modest woman.  Though poised at any podium and graphic on the page, she is not one for big to-dos unless others are the focus.

Respecting that, we put her in very good company, but insist she speak first as she stuns with these words from Stag’s Leap, the collection for which she won.  We’ve come to rely on her for just this kind of authenticity and  the signature honesty that forgoes embarrassment or guile.


And I know, I know, I should put
my dead marriage out on the porch
in the sun, and let who can, come
and nourish of it – change it, carry it
back to what it was assembled from,
back to the source of the light whereby it



When Tracy K. Smith won the Pulitzer last year, this is what we wrote of her life and work:

“So often the prizes that have become part of the lexicon of excellence go to the elders who have proven themselves by virtue of sustained output.  It is refreshing to have the Pulitzer go to this woman who has three books to her credit and a two-year-old daughter by her side. She is now a highly recognized poet and will forevermore be someone who stands for doing one’s work while working at the rest of what life asks.”

Two thousand and twelve was indeed a banner year for Tracy K. Smith, and we can expect so many more.  Herewith, an excerpt from her poem “Sci-Fi:”

There will be no edges, but curves.
Clean lines pointing only forward.

History, with its hard spine & dog-eared
Corners, will be replaced with nuance,

Just like the dinosaurs gave way
To mounds and mounds of ice.


The announcement of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry was a high-water mark for the legions of fans of the work of Kay Ryan.  Our Poet Laureate from 2008 to 2010, Kay (she invites familiarity with first meeting or reading) never minded being disastrously underrated until recognition came along.  She kept on with her deceptively simple poems and condensation of wonder and tragedy until we caught up and caught on from reading lines like these from “Patience”: 


Patience is
wider than one
once envisioned,
with ribbons
of rivers
and distant
ranges and
tasks undertaken
and finished
with modest
relish by
natives in their
native dress.


Two thousand and ten (yes, four women Pulitzer for Poetry winners in four consecutive years) brought the prize to the vivacious and determinedly plain-spoken Rae Armantrout.  Known for her dedication to the language of the everyday and how she weaves it into mysterious wonder, Rae Armantrout poems often look the way “Exact” begins:  

Quick, before you die,

the exact shade
of this hotel carpet.


Our current Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, took the Pulitzer Poetry honors in 2007.  Given the power and intelligence she brings to her work,  that was little surprise.  Her collection Native Guard, a relentless witnessing of the lives of black soldiers fighting against the Confederacy, contained these thoughts in verse:  

We know it is our duty now to keep

white men as prisoners­—rebel soldiers,

……….would-be masters. We’re all bondsmen here,


……….to the other. Freedom has gotten them

……….captivity. For us a conscription

……….we have chosen—jailors to those who still

……….would have us slaves.


Claudia Emerson received her Pulitzer for the poetry found in Late Wife in 2006.  Neither member of the poet’s in-crowd nor outsider in the list of highly respected poets, Emerson was a dark horse that year.  In honoring her, the Pulitzer committee refreshed our interest in Southern Narrative poetry by calling attention to lines like these from “Eight Ball:”

It was always possible
………..for you to run the table, leave me
nothing. But I recall the easy
……………shot you missed, and then the way
we both studied, circling—keeping
…………..what you had left me between us.


As always, we marvel at poetry’s versatility and applicability.  We salute our sisters who have been so honored in the infancy of this millennium and give special cheers to Sharon Olds for bringing light to a week that was dark indeed.



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